Beyond the Veil of Illusion: Colleen Hoover’s Problematic Play on Trauma and Abuse in Literature
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Enter any bookstore and you will see a shelf of Colleen Hoover’s bestselling novels. Not one but six of Hoover’s novels were among the top 10 bestselling books of the year in 2022. Following the 2021 resurgence in popularity of her novel It Ends with Us (2016), Hoover was thrust into the spotlight across social media platforms. Readers became obsessed with her romance novels filled with heart-wrenching plots of infertility, abuse, and infidelity. Her books went viral on TikTok and led to sales of over 20 million copies.
Hoover has received lots of attention from BookTok, one of the world’s largest book-focused social media communities where users discuss and recommend their favorite books. While this community aims to foster an inclusive environment for readers and bring greater visibility to new writers, it also perpetuates toxic stereotypes through the problematic themes represented in the literature it promotes. Hoover’s books are the epitome of this problem; they often rely on plots that normalize or romanticize domestic violence, abuse, and misogyny. Though Hoover’s novels aim to bring awareness to these problems, they end up romanticizing them and understating the devastating impact they have on victims.
While many BookTok readers adore Hoover’s plots and characters, others have criticized her romance novels for glossing over serious issues. Her first book to go viral, It Ends With Us, follows a florist named Lily Blossom Bloom (*wince*) as she navigates an extremely abusive relationship with her neurosurgeon boyfriend Ryle Kincaid. Throughout the story, Ryle abuses Lily emotionally and physically, while she continuously defends him and justifies his cruel actions. At the end of the novel, she finally leaves him after he rapes her. The book ends in “happily-ever-after” with Lily becoming a single mother and reconnecting with her first love, the dashing Atlas Corrigan. While Hoover’s message is meant to be empowering, her constant use of domestic violence and sexual assault as plot devices ends up romanticizing these issues rather than bringing awareness to them. Hoover’s portrayal of domestic violence lacks nuance, and after it serves its purpose for the plot, it is ultimately overlooked by fans.
Many people on BookTok give more importance to the romantic relationship between Atlas and Lily rather than the devastating domestic violence Lily faces in her relationship with Ryle. Lily leaving Ryle is undermined by fans as a way for her to be with Atlas, rather than being a response to Ryle’s violence and manipulation. Many fans even defend Ryle and argue that he is not abusive and rather Lily is overreacting. Hoover’s audience is largely teenage girls; knowing this, the poor handling of important themes like domestic violence and sexual assault becomes even more problematic.
Another Hoover novel, Ugly Love, follows Tate Collins, a registered nurse, and pilot Miles Archer, who are engaged in a “friends with benefits” relationship. As their relationship develops, Tate increasingly notices that Miles is emotionally detached from her and their relationship. She begins to question if he is just using her for sex, and when she confronts him about it, he cuts her off completely. As the book develops, Hoover uses trauma to justify Miles’s actions and reinforces the stereotype that women can “fix” their partners and help them resolve issues that, in reality, require professional help. In both novels, the male protagonists have past traumas, which are used to justify their actions toward the female protagonists.
Hoover’s take on abuse and trauma is problematic because it normalizes toxic, abusive relationships. With the popularity these books have garnered on TikTok, these mishandled themes are becoming ingrained in the minds of many Hoover’s young readers. Many create TikToks discussing their admiration for Miles and justifying Ryle’s actions. However, few discuss the problematic nature of these books.
As we move forward with modern literature, it becomes increasingly important to tackle themes and ideas which may be harmful to the coming generations of readers and writers. Exploiting trauma and abuse for cheap book plots will continue to be detrimental for young readers—it is time we prioritize teen literature that handle these themes more thoughtfully and appropriately.